6 Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Food Truck’s Health Score

Improper hand-washing, sick staff and unsafe food temps can quickly bring your booming food truck business to a halt.
Food-Truck-Kitchen-Crew
Even if your state doesn’t require it, getting all your staff food-handler certified is another good idea. (Photo: CREATISTA/Shutterstock)

Health department inspections can happen at any time — even during a lunchtime rush — and if your food truck and staff are not prepared, it can really put the brakes on your business.

richard-myrick

“Even if the violations are minor … the consumer will often remember this and find an alternative the next time they see your truck.” -Richard Myrick (Photo: Richard Myrick)

“When a truck receives a major violation, they are forced to shut down until the violation is cured and then reinspected. This takes valuable time and money,” explained Richard Myrick, author of “Running a Food Truck For Dummies” and editor of Mobile Cuisine Magazine. “They are also public record. This can harm a food truck’s brand and lead to a loss in revenue. Even if the violations are minor … the consumer will often remember this and find an alternative the next time they see your truck.”

Stay on top of your truck’s health record — and reputation — by avoiding these common mistakes.

Infrequent hand-washing

Nothing will damage a truck’s reputation faster than getting your customers sick, and proper hand-washing is perhaps the most critical way to prevent foodborne illness, said Myrick.

While hand-washing regulations vary depending on your area, all food-service workers must wash their hands at the following times:

  • Before starting work, when returning from a break or after using the restroom
  • As often as necessary while preparing food
  • Before and after handling ice
  • When switching between tasks, such as food prep and serving
  • Prior to and after using single-use gloves
  • After handling nonfood items such as garbage bags, cleaning chemicals and money
  • After touching exposed parts of the body or clothes, other than clean hands

Infrequent washing isn’t the only thing food trucks must watch out for. Lack of proper signage and water supply issues can also get you in trouble.

“The toughest part about hand-washing is a food truck’s limited water supply and the temperature and pressure the water must be when it leaves the hand-washing faucet,” he said. “If pressure is too low or the temps aren’t high enough, an inspector will shut down a truck immediately, and this isn’t something that can be typically repaired until the truck is inspected by a mechanic.”

Related: The Rules of the Road: How to Make Sure Your Food Truck is Compliant

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Proper hand-washing is perhaps the most critical way to prevent foodborne illness. (Photo: ALPA PROD/Shutterstock)

Unsafe food temperatures

According to the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, bacteria grow most rapidly in the “danger zone” temperature range of 40 F to 140 F.

“If you serve a customer food that was held in those temp ranges for too long, you could be serving them a side dish of salmonella, norovirus, E. coli or listeria,” said Myrick. “Every food truck owner needs to make sure that everyone working on their truck knows to monitor food temperatures to make sure they and their customers stay safe.”

Also make sure your chilling, thawing and heating methods are in line with USDA recommendations.

Improper chemical storage

Cleaning products like chlorine, ammonia and iodine are common in a food truck environment, but if these chemicals are not properly labeled and stored, it can be dangerous for both your customers and your staff.

These chemicals can literally poison your customers, said Myrick, so it’s critical to ensure they are stored away from food and food-contact surfaces.

“Also, if they aren’t properly labeled, you risk your staff’s health because these same chemicals can cause burns and respiratory problems when used in the tight confines of a food truck and are spilled or make skin contact,” he said.

Related: 4 Ways to Prepare Your Food Truck for the Busy Season

Poor sanitization procedures

Cleaning and sanitizing equipment — such as utensils, dishes and machines — is also essential for preventing foodborne illness. Myrick advised sanitizing food-prep tools between each task and following the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations to prevent pathogen growth on appliances.

“The biggest area missed is the seals on refrigerators,” he said. “Most trucks empty their fridge at the end of the shift and wipe down the shelves, but the seals tend to get missed. This is an easy area for an inspector to run a finger over to see if mold or bacteria has built up.”

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Request a copy of the health inspection list from your local inspector so you can conduct self-inspections throughout the year.
(Photo: LightField Studios/Shutterstock)

Sick employees

When one of your employees falls ill, never let them work on your food truck and risk contaminating customers or other staff members, said Myrick.

“Always have backup staff members that can help you out if someone calls in or is sent home because of illness. This can be tough on short notice, so these types of situations must be considered and a plan must be worked out in advance to make sure your truck isn’t ever short staffed.”

Related: A Small Business Guide to Surviving Flu Season

Skipping self-inspections

Properly training your staff on proper food handling and hygiene procedures is essential if you want to survive an impromptu health check. Myrick advised requesting a copy of the health inspection list from your local inspector, so you can conduct self-inspections throughout the year.

“Vendors aren’t always on their trucks, and if an inspector asks a question that isn’t properly answered, the truck can get a write-up.”

Even if your state doesn’t require it, requiring all of your food truck staff to get food-handler certified is another good idea, he said. Not only will it save you a lot of time and headaches, it will go a long way toward ensuring your workers and customers are safe.

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